By BEN SHATZMAN
Opening night of the NBA season is Tuesday night, in what is one of the most highly anticipated seasons since the league’s inception.
The offseason was one full of big-name free agent acquisitions and trades. The 2013 draft lacked the talent of previous drafts. The Cavaliers selected Canadian Anthony Bennett out of UNLV, and though a solid big man with plenty of potential, he does not hold the promise of an Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, or John Wall, who were the first overall picks in the three years prior. So, with a weak draft class, multiple teams made draft day trades or offseason moves to bolster their squads. Numerous former middle-of-the-road teams are now perennial contenders to make a playoff run.
In the Eastern Conference, the question remains the same as it has been since LeBron James’ proclaimed his much-scrutinized “decision”: Can any team take down the almighty Miami Heat?
The answer, like the question, is recurring: probably not. LeBron James says he got better this offseason. That is all that must be said regarding the Heat’s chances to 3-peat. However, the Atlantic Division is home to some of the most likely candidates to knock off the Heat. Below is a team-by-team preview of the division. The teams are listed in the order I predict them to finish the standings at the conclusion of the regular season.
1. Brooklyn Nets (Last season: 49-33, 2nd in Atlantic)
On draft day, the Nets traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, boosting their already ultra-talented squad into one of the most big-name starting fives in recent memory.
This year, all-stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brooke Lopez will start along with Pierce and Garnett to make up a dynamic five on both sides of the ball. The Nets’ bench is among the best in the league, too, with Terry, former all-star Andre Kirilenko, and underrated Andray Blatche all part of the Nets’ second team. The Nets will be a force to be reckoned with. However, Paul Pierce is not even half of the player he used to be, and Garnett has seen his play decrease with age. That being said, they will take on lesser roles this season, as Williams, Johnson, and Lopez are among the best players in the league. Jason Kidd is now the head coach, and he obviously possesses the high basketball IQ needed to coach a winning team. Kidd looks to lead the Nets where he did twice: the NBA championship. The Nets have the potential to compete with anyone, and are poised for a deep playoff run.
3. Toronto Raptors (Last season: 34-48, tied for 4th in Atlantic)
The ’12-’13 Raptors finished last in the Atlantic Division, but their record was not representative of their team. They improved greatly mid-season. They also suffered an abnormal amount of heartbreaking, close losses in which they were one possession away from being victorious. Rudy Gay will help to close out games and he demonstrated his ability to be the closer last season.